Bethlehem’s Inns Are Empty This Christmas

Wire story

Middle East

Bethlehem’s Inns Are Empty This Christmas

|December 2, 2020 06:00 AM

The coronavirus has cast a pall over Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, all but shutting down the biblical town revered as Jesus’ birthplace at the height of the normally cheery holiday season.

Missing are the thousands of international pilgrims who normally descend upon the town. Restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops are closed. The renowned Christmas tree lighting service will be limited to a small group of authorized people, as will church services on Christmas Eve.

“Bethlehem is dead,” said Maryana al-Arja, owner of the 120-room Angel Hotel on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

The hotel was the site of the West Bank’s first coronavirus outbreak—when a group of Greek tourists came down with the virus last March.

She kept her 25 workers on staff for several..

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Refugee Ministries Hope to Rebuild Under Biden

After President-elect Joe Biden reiterated his pledge to raise the refugee ceiling to 125,000, resettlement agencies are making plans to restore their efforts to “welcome the stranger.”

Under the Trump administration, the refugee ceiling dropped by 80 percent, down to a record low of 15,000, and agencies drastically scaled back operations as they lost out on the funding that accompanies new refugees.

Biden’s remarks come as exciting news to Christians working in refugee resettlement, though the prospect of an influx of refugeest to the US poses a challenge to the system after four years of decline.

“We’re encouraged by President-elect Biden’s ambitious commitment to refugee resettlement,” said Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, one of nine nongovernmental organizations resettling refugees in the US. “I appreciate the message this commitment sends to the world—that the US is ready to lead once again—and we at World Relief will be working with our church partners to prepare to..

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In My Remote Corner of India, Christianity Is Seen as a Cultural Threat

Growing up in India, I never imagined I would end up following Jesus Christ. I belong to the Adi tribe, one of the indigenous tribes in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, located in the remote, far northeast part of the country. Members of my family practiced a traditional animistic religion that was popular in our culture.

I considered myself an omnist—someone who believes in all religions. On some level, this even included Christianity. Before my conversion, I occasionally went to church services at the invitation of friends and I would celebrate holidays like Christmas. I also frequently read a Gideons New Testament Bible.

But all the while, I kept idols of all the deities, including the Hindu gods, Buddha, and Jesus Christ. And I visited a variety of places of worship: Hindu temples, a Buddhist monastery, and a gangging, where Adi people pray to a god called Donyi-Polo (in the Adi language, donyi means sun, and polo means moon).

Afraid of Hell

In 2008, a friend invited me to join ..

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Seven Identifiers for those Blinded by Self-Righteousness

Seven Identifiers for those Blinded by Self-RighteousnessSelf-righteousness pervades individuals, families, and organizations, so we must learn how to recognize it.

We live in a world filled with self-righteous people, groups, and institutions.

Self-righteousness is more than a trait—it is a state, a condition, or a way of life. It refers to those who are holier-than-thou, pharisaic, or sanctimonious. It’s a prideful reliance on who one is and what one does—in other words, someone full of themselves. While it can be subtle, it is clearly manifested in the antagonistic pious postures that people or groups have towards others.

The reality is, self-righteousness can be found virtually anywhere two or more are gathered. It can be lurking in families, organizations, politics, and yes, even churches.

Although self-righteousness can be easily diagnosed by others, it is hard for those who are self-righteous to receive the diagnosis.

To help make that diagnosis, here are seven identifiers ..

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Meet the People Who Minister in America’s Food Chain

In early spring, the coronavirus pandemic sent the global food supply chain into disarray. In US grocery stores, prices surged, and many items—not just toilet paper—simply disappeared from shelves.

At some fruit and vegetable farms across the country—particularly those that sell directly to consumers or stores—business remained strong or even improved. But other farms watched the market for their produce dry up overnight, forcing them to cut operations, pull acreage out of production, and endure the heartbreak of tilling harvest-ready crops into the ground.

At the base of this teetering agricultural system are migrant farm workers. Just under 10 percent of laborers come to the United States on H-2A visas, which allow them to work in agriculture for up to 10 months. The other 90 percent of seasonal farm workers live domestically and often earn minimum wage, patching together jobs in hospitality, restaurants, and a rotating schedule of crops. Nearly half are not authorized to work in t..

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How to Do Advent When Nothing Seems Worth Celebrating

As we approach Christmas this year, we are confronted with an uncomfortable question: Is there really anything worth celebrating?

We’re now in the season of Advent, an annual rhythm meant to slow us down as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Desiring an escape from the difficulties of this year, many of us declared several weeks ago that the Christmas season had already begun.

Advent is meant to be a time of hope, joy, love, and peace. These are beautiful virtues, but this year they risk sounding hollow. This time last year, while many Americans were worried about pumpkin pie and Black Friday deals, a deadly virus was silently starting to spread. Most of us knew nothing about it then, but with hundreds of thousands dead in our country alone, we certainly know about it now. Can we speak of hope in such a time?

In our efforts to curb this destruction, we’ve seen other predictable casualties, any one of which would be devastating in a “normal” year. Staggering numbers of peopl..

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How to Fake a Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The recent discovery of forged fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Museum of the Bible has called attention to the problem of faked antiquities. Evangelical collectors are thinking twice about spending money on rare bits of Bible history, fearing they could be expensive frauds, as Gordon Govier reports in the December issue of CT. But the problem is deeper than that, says George Washington University professor Christopher Rollston, an expert on ancient biblical inscriptions and the author of a forthcoming book on modern-day frauds. Forgeries corrupt what we think we know about the world of the Bible and create serious challenges for scholars trying to learn about the cultures that produced Moses, David, the prophets, and Christ’s first followers. Rollston thinks scholars have to be much more suspicious of forgeries and evangelicals should stop buying from the antiquities market.

How hard is it to forge a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Forgers today have really become quite go..

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Week 1: He Will Come Again in Glory

Jump to the daily reading: Sunday | Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday

Sunday: In Between

Today’s Reading: Revelation 1:4–9; 19:11–16; 21:1–5, 22–27; 22:1–5

Almost immediately, the opening chapter of Revelation lifts our eyes up to gaze at a glory that utterly transcends our earthly circumstances. “I am the Alpha and the Omega … who is, and who was, and who is to come’” (1:8). Our Savior “who loves us and has freed us from our sins” will return; “‘Look, he is coming with the clouds’ and ‘every eye will see him’” (1:5, 7–8). John goes on to describe a wondrous vision of Christ himself—an encounter so awesome that John “fell at his feet as though dead” (v. 17).

But right in the middle of these two glorious passages is a line we might easily miss: John’s brief description of his life and the lives of his letter’s recipients. John writes that he’s a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (v. 9). John wrote Revela..

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Why We Can’t Stop Talking about ‘Hipster’ Pastors

The episode and transcript will be available on Wednesday.

At the beginning of this month, Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz was fired. A day after the news went public, he posted a picture of his family on Instagram admitting he was unfaithful in his marriage. Both before and after the news, Lentz made headlines across Christian and secular media for his popularity and successful ministry—as well as the “hipster” pastor look he popularized.

When Lentz co-founded Hillsong NYC with Joel Houston in 2010, the church drew lines around the block and caught the eye of A-list celebrities, none more famous than Justin Bieber. Lentz, who became famous for his wire-rimmed glasses, plunging V-necks, and designer sneakers, himself became subject of a number of profiles. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in a GQ feature:

“The music! The lights! The crowds!” begins an incredulous woman narrating a CNN segment on Hillsong NYC . “It looks like a rock concert.” The chyron reads “Hipster preacher smashes ..

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Advent: Living Hope

What does it mean to have hope amid trying times? Hope is more than a feeling; it isn’t simply being perpetually optimistic or having a “hopeful” attitude. Scripture offers us an understanding of hope that is much more robust. Christian hope has heft, endurance, and purpose—and God is its source.

God, “in his great mercy … has given us new birth into a living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3). And it is our “God of hope” who enables us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13). This reality isn’t true only in good times; in fact, it is in dark and difficult times when hope truly shows its mettle.

As Jay Y. Kim writes in “Hope: An Expectant Leap,”

This is what Christian hope looks like. It doesn’t ignore fear, anxiety, and doubt; it confronts them. It holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos. Through life’s many treacherous storms … Christian hope is buoyed by something greater that has happened and something greater that is going to happen again.

This week..

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